Will is a Co-Founder and Executive Director of Groundswell.
On June 29, I landed in the Windy City to join a rare mix of collaborators. Energy suppliers, nonprofit leaders, mayors, technology firms, finance groups and government officials gathered in Chicago for the Clinton Global Initiative America conference to tackle our nation’s economic crisis.
Being a part of CGI America—a first of its kind summit focused on creating jobs and driving economic growth in the U.S.—was an unprecedented opportunity for our organization.
As one of a small number of nonprofits invited to take part in its Sustainable Buildings working group, it was a chance to forge strategic partnerships to integrate cutting-edge tools, resources and new ideas into our work.
One of the conference’s most powerful messages was that improving the energy performance of America’s building stock poses a massive economic opportunity.
To help make the case, conference organizers framed the scope of the opportunity before us with some major numbers: The commercial and residential building sectors will account for 73 percent of domestic electricity consumption and 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2011, according to the United States Department of Energy.
The green buildings working group—co-facilitated by Groundswell board member Bracken Hendricks—was packed and popping with energy. One of my favorite basketball players as a kid, Kevin Johnson, spoke under his new hat as Mayor of Sacramento. Mayor Johnson is passionate about sustainable economic development and greening public schools across the region.
Above all else, Groundswell's participation in CGI America signifies a resounding affirmation of the groundbreaking work happening in neighborhoods across Washington, D.C. I saw first-hand that the unique community-driven approach to the marketplace we’re taking here in D.C. is inspiring many of this field’s key stakeholders.
In working alongside the leadership of progressive energy companies, banks and groups like USGBC, the White House and Habitat for Humanity, it was evident that all were deeply interested in the core lessons we have learned through our work: that the unique bonds, trust and enterprising spirit of communities and grassroots networks are crucial to unlocking the new sector’s promise of jobs, energy savings and environmental balance across the country. I was proud to see our local allies, the District Department of the Environment, shaping the conversation as well.
The centerpiece of the conference was the public announcement of organizational commitments. CGI spotlighted Groundswell. In partnership with The RockefellerFoundation, Groundswell committed to:
[B]uild on its anchor work in D.C. to deploy nationwide its new market organizing model. The model harnesses community assets and social media to unlock consumer demand for building retrofits and advance job-rich, equitable and quality-assured building efficiency markets. Groundswell has established partnerships with pioneering organizations in three communities across the United States and will harness grassroots and community power to drive economic transformation amid critical building efficiency projects.
With this commitment, Groundswell is building the infrastructure needed to extend its model to additional communities across the country.
It’s a chance to help struggling families around the nation to get back behind the wheel of their own economic destiny, and in the process reveal the key to the vibrant clean energy economy we’ve all been waiting for, now hiding in plain sight: everyday communities, applying their power as energy consumers around a common vision.
I’d be remiss not to give a shout-out to the person behind this conference, who has quickly become one of the most important champions of energy upgrades in our built environment to spur job creation: President Bill Clinton.
President Clinton is successfully using his platform to reach millions of people with a simple, compelling message around a complex problem.
Having the “Jobs President” recast building efficiency as, first and foremost, an economic strategy has given all of us working in the clean energy space renewed sense of purpose as we work together in chipping away at an unrelenting recession, putting people first as we attack our energy challenge.
While at the conference, I had the opportunity to meet President Clinton. As I shook his hand, I was going to thank him, when he surprised me and beat me to the punch.
“Thanks for all that you have done on a critical issue,” he said.
I want to extend that word of thanks from our 42nd President to the Groundswell family.
With our work, we have created a truly inspiring example for people across the country of how communities with united purpose can take tangible steps into the clean energy future.
I’m excited to work with you to build on this opportunity to deepen our impact and touch more lives both locally and nationally.
I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress!